I was interviewed about The Political Economy of Zombies today and was asked why I thought zombies are so popular now. I suppose I should have been prepared for that question, but it's not something I tried to explain in my essay (or the intro), It didn't even occur to me explain it to myself - I was more concerned with what it meant, not why it was happening - and I think those are two different things. Zombies are grotesque, morbid, and in-and-of -themselves, dull (one might say lifeless). So asking why they are so popular is seems worth thinking about.
There is a moment towards the end of Max Brooks' World War Z in which we find out that, because zombies don't drown, they have formed into a cannibal-corpse water pollution. The horror that image inspired in me was definitely deepened by my awareness of the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (not to be confused with the West Coast headquarters of The Great Pumpkin). But Brooks' zombies are also particular, while he never explains the origin of his zombies or the mechanism of his zombification, he does describe their flesh as odorless; that because they can't rot, they don't stink. So when he reveals that some zombies float, and are dangerous for boaters, while other zombies sink, making all bodies of water especially dangerous places - the horror of his zombies fantasy was multiplied by my real-world horror of plastic choked oceans. But that's very particular to one persons imagination of zombies, and not why I think we love to fear zombies more generally.
When we villainize a fictional alien race, it is impossible to avoid identifying with some actual terrestrial equivalent. Aliens become inevitably become caricatures of our xenophobic fears. They represent what their makers and/or their audience feels about communists, fascists, Nigerians, Feudal EuropeanSovietArabJapeneseAfrican AmericanVikings, women, bugs and/or homosexuals. Done badly, these caricatures easily go off the track and leave us with the queasy feeling that we are participating in racist stereotypes. Done well they become insightful looks at the unexamined biases of our times. But zombies have no culture, no ideology, no race, no sex lives - or lives of any sort. They aren't racist, or rapey, or homophobic. Nor are they a swarm, a hive, a flock, or a pack - which is to say, they can't be said to be expressions of our alienation from nature. They are, in some respects, the perfect consumerist horror property - even as they disgust and terrify us all, they offend no one.